How Gender & Parenthood Affect How Much Wealth People Accrue Shows The “Motherhood Penalty” In Action Yet Again

Whether or not you have children, no matter your age, earnings or lifestyle, is an extremely personal choice — but as we're reminded time and time again, it's often a choice for which women are penalized and men aren't. It may not, for example, sound surprising that a recent study found women who have children accrue less wealth compared to those who don't have any; kids, after all, are expensive. But the study also found that the same is not true for men — whether or not they have children, they still accrue more wealth than mothers do. As it's 20-and-freaking-17 right now, I really have to ask: How is this happening?

As many women across various backgrounds can attest, when it comes to the discussion on having children, you're often made to feel as if there's something wrong with you if you don't want children or that you're admittance into womanhood depends on how many offspring you bear. It's not a black and white situation, of course; there are plenty of badass women who chose not to procreate and enjoyed their womanhood just fine, as well as lots of equally badass women who have known they've wanted kids their entire life and love being parents.

I'm currently unsure as to what camp I fall into personally, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the potential hit my finances and career would take if I became a mother any time soon. And I doubt I'm alone; after all, much has been written about the "Motherhood Penalty" — the fact that the gender pay gap increases exponentially once a woman leaves the workforce to have children. For women on the fence about having kids, financial constrains could be a factor in choosing to stay childless. With this in mind, I guess it's now somewhat expected that more research confirms that a gender-specific economic impact of parenthood does indeed exist. But it doesn't make the news any less depressing, does it?

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The recent findings were as part of a German study which looked at 28,650 individuals from 2002 to 2012 and concluded that unfortunately, mothers do accrue less wealth than both child-free women and fathers. To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the personal income and finances of all participants over the course of a decade and discovered that for each year after a woman's first child is born, she makes only about 98 cents for each euro that child-free women earn. They also found that after being a mother for 50 years in Germany, a woman's personal wealth is roughly 60 percent lower than for a woman without any kids, accounting for everything else remaining the same. In comparison, men who are well matched in education, earnings and age display similar amounts of personal wealth, whether they have children or not.

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The findings also suggested that the younger a woman is when she becomes a mother, the greater the financial loss is. The study authors thought this may indicate that career interruptions early on in one's working life are more harmful than those that occur later on.

Writing in Phys Org, study author Philipp M. Lersch said that the gap in earnings is related in the main to employment. "German mothers accumulate less wealth because they are likely to stop paid work to care for their young children and, as children get older, return to work part-time," he said. He continued, "Without full-time employment, women have less income to put into savings. Employment gaps may also reduce long-term earning potential because career advancement becomes less likely."

Interestingly, he also noted that men may not necessarily split finances as a couple when their partners lose out on earnings for having children. "According to our study, women's male partners do not appear to fully compensate for these losses in wealth by sharing financial resources within the couple," Lersch commented.

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Although dispiriting, the research has affirmed, sadly, some of what we already knew: That women who leave the labor force to have kids are penalized harshly. However, it's interesting that having children younger is thought to have a more adverse effect on a woman's career — you know, what with all the media hype advising women not to leave it "too late" to have kids. This study also starkly underlined the fact that having children does not adversely effect a man's paypacket in any way; there is simply no discernible difference in wealth accrued by men with children versus men without children. Some studies even suggested that fatherhood works in a man's favor in the office; research out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst published in 2014 found that men actually earn up to six percent more after having a child, while a UK study carried out by Institute for Public Policy Research for the Trade Union Commission showed that fathers can take home 21 percent more than men without kids. So while women suffer a "motherhood penalty," there simply is  no equivalent "fatherhood penalty."

Is your mind blown yet?